Martin Cothran is upset wroth. I pointed out that his defense of Pat Buchanan against charges of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial are fallacious, and he replies with a post that show no actual signs of having read what I wrote.
Cothran’s continued defense of Pat Buchanan against charges of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial is rather stunning. Apparently I “spend the majority of [my] time contorting [my]self into various interesting ideological knots trying to justify calling someone an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier who clearly is not.”
“Clearly not,” huh? That’s not what William F. Buckley thought. Buckley, who wrote a lengthy, and dare I say ponderous, essay on charges of anti-Semitism, considered Buchanan’s statements on Jews and Israel up through 1991. He found that, while individual comments by Buchanan might be individually defensible from the charge of anti-Semitism, but that the entire gestalt is inescapable. After blaming Jews for the rush to defend Kuwait from Iraq, Buckley felt that “nothing had been said that was anti-Semitic, let alone arrantly so.” After a quip that Capitol Hill was “Israeli-occupied territory,” Buckley concluded that, while the statement was “hyperbole” that was not “uniquely invidious,” but that “it was all beginning to add up.” After Buchanan identified 4 particular proponents of the war, and all happened to be Jewish, Buckley felt that “This common denominator assaults the analytical mind in a way it wouldn’t if the four strategists had been uniquely identifiable as advocates of a tough line against Saddam Hussein.” At this point, Buckely merely felt that “The evidence that the Jewish factor was engrossing Buchanan mounted.” But when Buchanan claimed that the war would be fought by “kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales, and Leroy Brown” Buckley couldn’t escape the fact that “There is no way to read that sentence without concluding that Pat Buchanan was suggesting that American Jews manage to avoid personal military exposure even while advancing military policies they (uniquely?) engender.” Indeed, “I find it impossible,” he concludes, “to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say and do it.”
Cothran claims that my argument consists of “a collection of guilt by association arguments and half truths, mixed in with a few demonstrable falsehoods.” No actual falsehoods are documented, nor does he justify the allusion to guilt-by-association. I don’t know whether he’s accusing the late William F. Buckley of being a liar, or merely a half-liar. I find Buckley’s condemnation significant because his political interests would have been best served by defending an ally against such charges. By contrast, the expert opinion of the Southern Poverty Law Center that Buchanan wrote a “white nationalist screed” and the Anti-Defamation League’s judgement that Buchanan “publicly espouses racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-immigrant views” could be met with the claim that both groups have an incentive to see such offenses wherever they can. I happen to disagree with that assessment, but Buckley cannot be similarly charged with an excess of anti-anti-Semitic zeal.
As to Cothran’s charge of guilt-by-association, I did mention that neo-Nazis are great fans of Buchanan’s but did not point out Buchanan campaign co-chair Larry Pratt’s resignation over ties to white supremacists, his reliance on racist think tanks for stats, the assessment that his authoring “a white nationalist screed,” another campaign chairman who thinks Jews control Hollywood and blamed “Jewish money” for the Last Temptation of Christ, a state steering committee member who turned out to have also run David Duke’s state campaign, David Duke’s stated desire to place Buchanan on his presidential ticket, a county chairwoman’s membership in David Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White People, etc. Had I built an argument of such straw, Cothran would be right to advise caution. OTOH, it must be said that public figures like Buchanan who lie down with dogs must be aware that they will wake up with fleas.
That said, I did not base the argument on such claims. I did mention Buchanan’s habit of frequenting white supremacist radio shows. The endorsement of neo-Nazi radio certainly strengthens the case for Buchanan’s anti-Semitism, in the sense that when neo-Nazis, the ADL, and William F. Buckley all think you’re an anti-Semite, there’s good cause to call you an anti-Semite, and the defense against such a charge must consist of more than Cothran’s insistence that Buchanan is “clearly not.” Especially if Buchanan is the one who sought to appear on that program. It’s one thing to accept an invitation, quite another to seek it out.
Cothran claims that “The only solid point [I] make is about a factoid Buchanan used in one of his columns from an e‑mail someone had sent him that he apparently had not checked out.” Again, Cothran reveals his poor reading comprehension. As the Holocaust History Project documents, “Buchanan’s source was almost certainly the July 1988 issue of a small (six-page) pamphlet: the G.I.E.A. Newsletter of the German American Information and Education Association.” It is clear that this is a printed document, not an e‑document. Buchanan’s column was printed in 1990, and email was hardly widespread in either 1988 or 1990. The clear inference to be drawn is that Buchanan subscribed to the GIEA newsletter, or was forwarded that issue by one of his neo-Nazi supporters.
And the issue is hardly a factoid. It is central to Buchanan’s Holocaust-denying claim that one of the major documented means of Nazi mass murder did not, in fact, happen. Joshua Muravchik, writing in Commentary, notes that “Diesel exhaust fumes were used not only at Treblinka but also at Chelmno, Sobibor, and Belzec, and were moreover employed extensively by the Nazi killing squads (Einsatzgruppen) inside the USSR. If such fumes cannot kill, then a good part of what has generally been accepted as having happened to the Jews at the hands of the Nazis cannot have happened.”
Cothran then writes:
One of Buchanan’s claims, concerning the reliability of survivor testimonies in Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem came from the Jerusalam Post. I can’t wait to hear Rosenau accuse the Jerusalem Post of Holocaust denial. The story’s quote was questioned by Shumel Krakowski the director of the Yad Vashem Archives in Jerusalem who the reporter quoted, but, as far as I can discern, the reporter has stood by her story.
But as the Holocaust History Project points out (at the same link, leaving Cothran no excuse for missing it!):
There is no need to hunt for Buchanan’s sources on these statements. They have been staples of Holocaust-denial for many years. The source is the Director of the Yad Vashem archives in Jerusalem, Shmuel Krakowski.
Krakowski was misquoted in an article in the Jerusalem Post on August 17, 1986. …
On the same day this article appeared, Krakowski sent a shocked protest, which appeared on August 22:
To the Editor of the Jerusalem Post
Sir, — I was deeply astonished to read Barbara Amouyal’s front-page article of August 17, which is based in part on an interview with me.
Many hundreds of the 20,000 testimonies held in our archives were extensively used in Nazi war criminal trials, contrary to what Amouyal wrote.
I told Amouyal that survivors wrote their accounts for the record of history. I cannot understand why she made of it that survivors wanted “to be part of history”.
I said there are some — fortunately very few — testimonies, which proved to be inaccurate. Why did Amouyal make them out to be a large number?
Regarding the final remark, I did not receive any “orders” not to discuss the Demjanjuk case. I simply refused to discuss it with Amouyal.
Yad Vashem Archives
How would Buchanan have seen the inaccurate article and not noticed the immediate retraction? It’s possible he read it only second-hand. As Holocaust-denier Bradley Smith admitted in 1995, the original had “made the rounds in revisionist [i.e., Holocaust denier] circles” for many years (but the retraction of course had not).
So that one column, defending indicted war criminal and known SS member John Demjanjuk, Buchanan thus cited two obscure claims endemic to the Holocaust denial community. The Holocaust History Project concludes: “Whether Patrick Buchanan is a Holocaust-denier, or merely a journalist who let his biases convince him to pass on rabid antisemitism as truth, is left as an exercise for the reader.” I have drawn my conclusion, and I stand by it.
Confirmation of my judgment comes from reporting by Michael Moynihan, for Reason. Moynihan cites the writings of Holocaust denier Jerome Brentar, who claims to have provided Buchanan with the basis for his Holocaust-denying column. In the Holocaust denial house organ – Journal of Historical Review– Brentar writes:
One day I got a call from a Mr. Matt Balic of New Jersey. Like me, he is of Croatian background. He told me that he he’d like to introduce me to Pat Buchanan. Balic told me that I have an important story to tell, and asked if I’d like to appear [on the television program] “Crossfire.” “Sure,” I replied. So that’s how I came to appear on “Crossfire.” I got to know Buchanan very well, and from that time on I sent him much information that he used in writing articles in defense of Demjanjuk.
Cothran notes that “the interesting thing about this particular story is that these statements by Buchanan were made in the context of the trial of John Demjanjuk,” a man accused of orchestrating mass murder at Treblinka, deported to Israel for trial, and acquitted based on evidence he was at a different camp. Cothran complains that I “still refer to Demjanjuk as a ‘war criminal,’ despite the fact that he was acquitted by … The Israeli Supreme Court.” Actually, Demjanjuk is currently in the midst of deportation proceedings to Germany, where he will be tried for participating in mass murder at the camp he acknowledges being stationed at. For reasons I don’t care to speculate about, Cothran ignores that part of the story, a part rather critical to the question of whether Demjanjuk is an “war criminal.” I call him a war criminal for the same reason “alleged” often gets dropped in discussions of O. J. Simpson’s guilt in his ex-wife’s murder. Regardless of the first acquittal, Demjanjuk “was beyond a doubt a participant in mass murder.” Buchanan regards Demjanjuk as “America’s Dreyfus,” implying some sort of bias (against Nazis, perhaps) drives this prosecution. As Moynihan puts it: “one cannot present a man who served in the SS and can be credibly placed at the Sobibor death camp as ‘America’s Dreyfus.’ ”
Nor is Demjanjuk the only Nazi war criminal Buchanan has defended. As Joshua Muravchik notes in the conservative Commentary, “he rallies to the defense of Nazi war criminals, not only those who protest their innocence but also those who confess their guilt.” I said that Buchanan “has repeatedly defended a Nazi war criminal,” and I think that claim needs no further defense. Cothran’s claim that “Virtually all of Rosenau’s charges against Buchanan have to do in one way or another with the Demjanjuk case” is flatly wrong, and Cothran’s further claim that that is “a case in which Buchanan so far has been proven right” can only be considered narrowly accurate. Demjanjuk was acquitted for reasons other than those Buchanan advocated, and Buchanan continues to defend him in his current trial, using Jew-baiting terminology to do so.
To simplify, here are the reasons I gave for calling Buchanan an anti-Semite:
- groups dedicated to tracking anti-Semitism call Buchanan an anti-Semite
- groups and individuals with no stake in claiming Buchanan is an anti-Semite (and those with an interest in defending him) consider him an anti-Semite
- he consistently writes and behaves as if Jews operate a giant conspiracy which influences US policy against American interests (“Israeli-occupied territory,” backing down from praising the SS is “Succumbing to the pressure of the Jews,” and so forth)
- neo-Nazis regard him as a kindred spirit, and by appearing on their radio shows, putting them in senior campaign positions, and citing their work, he indicates that he finds them to be kindred spirits, too
- he engages in Holocaust denial
Why do I say he’s a Holocaust denier? Read on below the fold…
Cothran seems not to think I’ve offered and applied a clear definition of the term, but I cited a widely-accepted definition, and found that Buchanan’s statements and behavior fits the mold. Cothran’s preferred definition is logically unacceptable, since it is circular (“you have to actually deny the Holocaust to be a Holocaust denier”). My definition requires denial of any one of three aspects of the historical consensus about the Holocaust (reformatted from the previous post for clarity):
the Holocaust was
- the intentional murder of European Jews
- by the Nazi government of Germany during World War II
- as a matter of state policy;
this mass murder
- employed gas chambers,
- among other methods
the death toll of European Jews by the end of World War II was
- roughly 6 million.
I have found no clear statement from Buchanan that addresses this last point. It may exist, but I do not claim that he denies this aspect of the Holocaust. Donald Trump, of all people, challenged Buchanan, asking the New York Times: “Pat says Hitler had no malicious intent towards the United States. Hitler killed six million Jews and millions of others. Don’t you think it was only a question of time before he got to us?” Buchanan responded by saying that “Mr Trump’s views reflect an almost paralysing ignorance of the history of the Second World War.” Whether he regards the assessment of the Holocaust’s death toll as part of that ignorance isn’t clear. We do know that, speaking with the New Republic’s Jacob Weisberg in 1990, Buchanan defended his rejection of one means of mass murder employed by the Nazis and “embraces a bolder debunking claim than he is yet willing to endorse in print.”
His denial the use of certain well-documented means of mass murder, places him in the territory of Holocaust denial, but that is a comparatively thin reed.
His thesis in a speech written for Ronald Reagan that praised the SS officers interred at Bitburg cemetery was that “they were victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.” This certainly trivializes the Holocaust, conflating the suffering of its victims with its authors’ wartime fatalities. Implicit in this conflation is a belief that the Holocaust dead were victims of circumstance, and not an intentional murder carried out as part of a state policy.
Similarly, Buchanan’s thesis in his recent book Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War crosses from gross historical revisionism into the realm of Holocaust denial. Writing of Buchanan’s notion that Churchill, not Hitler, is responsible for WWII, Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the New York Review of Books states that “Although Buchanan’s argument isn’t stupid, it requires something like a historiographical sleight of hand, and is conducted backward, as it were.” Wheatcroft also notes Buchanan’s rather odd remark that the pogrom of November 1938, the famous Kristallnacht, was merely “an historic blunder.” Surely the massive loss of life and property, not to mention the destruction of synagogues and religious relics, deserves greater condemnation. Or would, if one’s views on Judaism were even neutral.
Writing in the Jerusalem Post (which paper Cothran seems to regard as quite trustworthy), Jonathan Tobin reviews The Unnecessary War and finds Buchanan to be “an apologist for Hitler,” and notes Buchanan’s “ideological roots  in the anti-Semitic ‘American First’ movement.” Buchanan claims in the book that the Holocaust, whichever parts of it Buchanan agrees occurred, is the fault of Churchill and Roosevelt for going to war with Germany (despite the fact that Germany declared war on the US).
Many Holocaust deniers do not deny that lots of Jews died in concentration camps, but insist that those deaths were not intentional murders, and were not a result of state policy. They claim that those deaths resulted from disease and individual bad acts by scattered camp guards. His claim that the Holocaust is a result of World War II is entirely consistent with that strain of Holocaust denial, and is inconsistent with what historians know about history.
Indeed, he denies explicitly that the Holocaust was a result of any overarching plan on Hitler’s part, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “Wolf, I have not seen any plans of extermination.” He later added: “What Hitler did was a monstrous crime, Wolf. But it was a war crime.” Nor does he specify what, exactly, he thinks Hitler did.
The full quote there is actually informative. At the end of an interview, Blitzer interrupts Buchanan’s assault on Churchill with apparent frustration:
BLITZER: Hitler had plans of exterminating the Jews in the ’30s, a lot earlier [than the invasion of Poland].
BUCHANAN: Wolf, I have not seen any plans of extermination. Hitler went genocidal after the invasion of Russia was broken down in Russia, after he declared war on the United States, and he was looking defeat in the face. It was at that point that the Wannsee Conference was held, Wolf. as you know, that was in January of 1942.
BLITZER: What about all the anti-Semitic laws? Kristalnacht? All those Jews who were rounded up in Germany starting in the 1930s.
BUCHANAN: Look, there’s no doubt Hitler was anti-Semitic from the time even before he wrote Mein Kampf. What we’re talking about, when you mention the Holocaust, for Heaven’s sakes, is genocide. We’re not talking about anti-Semitism, there was anti-Semitism in Poland for those years. The Nuremberg Laws were in 1935, they were dreadful. As a consequence half the Jews had left Germany before Kristalnacht, which was in November 1938. Another half fled after that. They were outside Germany when the curtain fell. What Hitler did was a monstrous crime, Wolf. But it was a war crime. Had there been no war there would have been no Holocaust in my judgment.
Again, it is a common Holocaust denier claim that the reduced number of Jews in Europe is a result not of mass murder, but of mass migration. Buchanan’s recitation of reasons for migrating again verges on those denier arguments without making them explicit. What is explicit is his odd belief that the vehemently anti-Semitic policies before the war, policies which forced Jews out of their homes, into concentration camps or ghettos, can be cleanly separated from the policy of machine-gunning, gassing, torturing, dehumanizing, and otherwise seeking to obliterate the Jewish race. Similarly, Cothran wants us to separate Buchanan’s advocacy for Nazi war criminals, his adoption of Holocaust denier claims, his close companionship with neo-Nazis and white nationalists, his endorsement of white nationalism, his trivialization and misrepresentation of the Holocaust, and his decades-long pattern of repeating anti-Semitic slurs about Jews controlling American policy. Each, individually, might not be regarded as anti-Semitic or full blown Holocaust denial. William F. Buckley, addressing similar attempts to muddy the waters, notes that many of Buchanan’s friends do not find him averse to individual Jews, but quotes Joshua Muravchik’s essential point:
They [defenders of Buchanan] do not understand that anti-Semitism comes in a variety of forms. One variant, what we might call country club prejudice, consists in an aversion to associating with Jews, but may entail no particular political content. On the other side, political anti-Semitism holds ‘the Jews’ culpable of miscreancy, but may entail no dislike for this or that individual Jew. The latter type is infinitely more dangerous.
Indeed it is. And that is why I find it odd that Martin Cothran would choose to quote an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier on Yom HaShoah, but that he would then proceed to defend that anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, even defending some of the anti-Semitic and Holocaust denying claims.
Cothran wants to divert this to the question of whether President Obama is anti-Semitic. The evidence Cothran offers consists exclusively of guilt-by-association with people who criticize Israel. I said before, and I stand by this:
It’s one thing to criticize Israeli policy for being overly bellicose, undermining efforts for peace, and mistreating innocent civilians in the Palestinian Authority. It is another to reflexively attack anything Israel does just because it’s the Jewish state, or to spawn elaborate conspiracies in which Israel and its agents pull all the strings in global geopolitics and geofinance. Substantial evidence exists that Buchanan is in the latter camp.
Cothran accuses various people of being “anti-Israel,” when they are more accurately termed anti-certain-policies-of-the-current-Israeli-government. Being “anti-Israel” would imply a desire that Israel not exist at all; one can fruitfully oppose certain policies of the Israeli government in hopes that such criticism would make it a better place, and never questioning the necessity of there being a state of Israel. Buchanan reflexively opposes anything done (or, in some cases, not done) by Israel, and frames events so as to imply that Israel is driving events when it is clearly not. As Muravchik noted in the midst of Buchanan’s claim that Israel was fomenting war with Iraq (just as anti-Semites claim the Jews fomented England and the US into World War II):
when Buchanan first made his controversial remark, McLaughlin at once contradicted him by pointing out that Saudi Arabia and Egypt both wanted war against Iraq, and he repeated this on a later show when the issue was rehashed.
McLaughlin’s point was hardly news: it was surely familiar to all his fellow panelists and probably to many of their viewers, for it had been reported several times. But this only highlighted the odd nature of Buchanan’s charge: it was manifestly false and he must have known that it was. Israel—which had absorbed nearly unanimous international condemnation for its 1981 airstrike that aborted Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program, and which Saddam Hussein had recently threatened with weapons of mass destruction—no doubt was hoping that this time the U.S. would do the job. But Israel had been maintaining a low profile, as indeed it had been urged to do by the United States in the interest of keeping the majority of Arab states aligned against Iraq. Far from beating the drums, Israel was at most merely humming along. And even to the extent that Israel and its friends were quietly hoping for war, they were, as McLaughlin reminded Buchanan, hardly the “only” ones.
As William F. Buckley notes:
Is criticism of Israel’s policies a symptom of anti-Semitism, active or latent? It is almost universally agreed that this isn’t so, and it is hard to maintain otherwise, if only because of the heated opposition within Israel itself to many Israeli public policies.
Thus, it is not ipso facto anti-Semitic to regard Israeli policy towards the Palestinians as apartheid. It is not ipso facto anti-Semitic to be on the board of a group that funds another group that uses a common Arabic term which translates to “catastrophe” in reference to the mass migration of Palestinians out of the newly created Israel (and note that Cothran actually lops off a degree of relatedness from this tangled line). Until we can control who endorses us, it is not anti-Semitic to be endorsed by anti-Semites.
It is, however, anti-Semitic to state that SS officers are just as much victims as the millions killed by, well, the SS. It is anti-Semitic to claim that Israel manipulates American policy using a shadowy network of agents (though, as I have noted, “the nature and existence of an “Israeli lobby in Washington” is a fraught topic, with (misplaced, IMHO) charges of anti-Semitism being aimed at John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. But it could also be taken to mean something like the ‘Learned Elders of Zion,’ who were alleged, in an anti-Semitic forgery still circulated today, to ‘work ‘behind the scenes’ of all the Governments,’ from which position they ‘arranged … successes … for Darwinism (Evolution), Marxism (Communism), Nietzsche-ism (Socialism).‘”). It is anti-Semitic to repeat Holocaust denial. It is anti-Semitic to defend Nazi war criminals. It is anti-Semitic to consistently single out Jews for criticism, and to pit Jews against other ethnic and religious groups.
Added for completeness:
Cothran charges that I was wrong to say that he’s a “stooge for Focus on the Family,” since “the group I have worked for is not an affiliate of Focus on the Family, and never has been.” Focus on the Family seems to disagree. Saying that these state groups do not have a “corporate or financial relationship … to Focus on the Family” hardly undermines the widely reported affiliation between Focus on the Family and these state groups. Other such state groups identify themselves as “associates” of, “informally associated with,” or as “officially associated,” “partner[ed] with” or “reinforced by a working relationship with” FotF. I know I’d try to hide any association, affiliation, partnership, reinforcement, or even proximity to James Dobson and Focus on the Family, but I wouldn’t think Cothran would share that aversion. I guess FotF is more toxic than I realized. If “affiliated” implies too formal a relationship for Cothran’s delicate sensibilities, I’m happy to change it to the less formal “associated.” None of Cothran’s quibbles bear on the question of whether he is a stooge for Focus on the Family, an assessment I stand by.